Breakthroughs, Career and Life Satisfaction Survey, Empowerment, Inspiration for Change Are You Toxic To Deal With? How To Tell, and How To Change Written by: Kathy Caprino


Last week, I posted a piece on LinkedIn about toxic behaviors that I see everyday in the work I do, and the response has been quite amazing.  Here’s the post:

6 Toxic Behaviors That Push People Away: How To Recognize Them In Yourself and Change Them

When I write an article, I truly never know how it will be perceived and received. I just write about what matters to me, and what emerges on the forefront of what I’m thinking about and focusing on that week.  In this case, I felt compelled to write about behaviors I see daily (and that I’ve engaged in as well), that wreak havoc in our lives and careers, bringing with them unhappiness, pain and suffering to those participating in them, and to everyone involved.

What’s shocked me about this post is that it went viral (1.8 million views to date), and that some of the direct responses I’ve received were evidence of the exact same toxic behaviors I’ve described.

I’ve heard from people who:

1) Attacked me for my views, and called the post dangerous

2) Accused me of thinking I was “better” than other people

3) Put me down for not seeing their “specialness”

4) Demanded I help them now

5) Criticized me for not having more time and ability to personally help everyone who needs it

6) Called me judgmental and haughty for pointing out toxic behaviors

The lesson I’m learning in my life and work right now (and it’s an important one for me) is that when something reaches millions of people, there will be just that many different types of responses (good, bad, and the ugly), and my boundaries need to be sufficient to withstand that.  And I need to focus on the positive and be grateful that the post had an impact, and made people think.

About toxic behaviors, my wish from this piece is that people can begin to identify these 6 toxic behaviors in themselves but from a loving, compassionate standpoint, not to beat themselves up about it.  I believe we’ve all engaged in some form of these behaviors throughout our lifetimes – they’re universal.  The key to increasing your happiness and having more satisfying human connection is gaining greater awareness of when you are hurting yourself and others. Greater awareness equal greater choice.

The six toxic behaviors to watch out for are:

1. Taking everything personally

2. Obsessing about negative thoughts

3. Treating yourself like a victim

4. Cruelty – lacking in empathy or putting yourself in others shoes

5. Excessive reactivity

6. Needing constant validation

Once you can recognize these behaviors in yourself, and accept that you have the capacity to be self-obsessed, negative, self-limiting, cruel, emotionally reactive, and overly needy, you can do something about it.  But if you continue to hold yourself above self-scrutiny, you can’t change or grow.

Thank you for looking at yourself in the mirror today, and being honest and open in identifying what you see, both the things you’d like to change, and the things in yourself you’re grateful for and appreciative of.  Writing this piece has deepened my commitment to identifying these toxic behaviors in myself — and also appreciating what is positive, loving, and helpful — and doing something about it.

Let me know what you think about these 6 toxic behaviors. Do you see yourself in any of these? What have you done to shift away from them?


53 thoughts on “Are You Toxic To Deal With? How To Tell, and How To Change”

  1. Hi Kathy,

    I’m not sure why anyone would criticize you for this article. Personally I thought it was terrific and spot on. Keep up the great work!



  2. Thanks so much, Matt! I truly appreciate your feedback. So glad you found it useful.

  3. I definitely find myself doing No. 1 and I see some of the others in other people as well. I find it funny that other people point out my issue but don’t see the chink in their own armor. I want to print this out, highlight a few and lay it on their desk.

  4. Thanks, Cindy! Appreciate your note. Yes, I find it curious too that so often folks point out in others the same “chinks” they have, but they don’t see it in themselves. Hope this posts helps bring these to light so we can all address them in ourselves. Thanks!

  5. Kathy:
    Thank you for a very well written article. I agree with your opinion, “If you continue to hold yourself above self scrutiny, you can’t change or grow”. This applies both professionally as well as personally. I look forward to reading future articles.

  6. Hi again Kathy
    Another thought – Would you agree with the philosophy that the ‘faults we see in others are generally our own’ this also applies when we identify great qualities in others, All the qualities we admire or despise in others are in ourselves and what we need to do is identify these and change them or cherish them like you say.

  7. Agree…this article perfectly and accurately describe some friends and colleagues…those who criticize Kathy are probably toxic people themselves trying to defend their obnoxious behaviour..

  8. Great insights, Hanna. I do believe that the great qualities we see in others are a reflection of what we love and admire, and what resides in ourselves. The same is true for negative qualities – the world around us is a mirror of ourselves. Thank for sharing.

  9. Hanna, I appreciate your candor. The same thing happened to me. I wrote this piece with others in mind, but of course, it dawned on me very quickly how I engage in these behaviors far more often then I’d like to admit. Many thanks for your feedback.

  10. I agree with Maki Sato and that those response from people who are toxic. I loved the article!!!

  11. Good information in this article. Did I miss the part on how to change them once you recognize them? Or does just recognizing them create the change? I working from Breakdown, Breakthrough Chapter 5 and found I’m over identifying with the over-nurturing, worrying “mother” aspect of myself that is protecting me to the point of stopping my growth and career change. I would relate this to treating myself as a victim in some way. I’m looking for the one step I could take this month to let go of over identifying with this part of me and was hoping for a few examples from others, which is why I read this article.

  12. Hi Catherine – Thanks for your note. I’m sorry – I’m not quite clear about the issue you’re struggling with. Is it that you feel you are an overprotective, over-nurturing mother and are overly-connected with the parenting dimension of your life, which might be crippling your kids as well as your own personal growth? If so, this issue isn’t a quick-fix, or one-size-fits-all problem – it requires a deeper understanding of the complexity of the situation, where it stems from, what your fears and anxieties are, what you’re holding yourself back from, and what you’d like to move toward to, etc. Feel free to write me at with a bit more explanation, and I’ll do my best to offer some resources that would help. Did you check out my Forbes post “7 Crippling Parenting Behaviors That Keep Children From Growing Into Leaders?” Tim Elmore’s work is fabulous! Looking forward to learning more about your situation. Thanks, and all best.

  13. I develop these behaviours later in my jobs.

    I have worked my rear of in every job I’ve ever had. I believe I step up more than my job would expect of me initially but I can just never get off that bottom rung which causes these behaviours to develop over time.

    I know at times I can be horrible but find it almost impossible to stop myself. I see people constantly getting ahead who would walk all over anyone to do it.
    After being lied too so many times my trust levels for anyone besides my family is zero and it’s just has me walking in circles. I feel like a mouse on a wheel.

    I know I can do well and always give everything I do all i can, so what is it about me that won’t see someone give me a go.

  14. Kathy,

    My current boss exhibits all of these traits nearly 100% of the time. I have actually made a list of his toxic behaviors over the last couple of years, and they pretty much match up to those in your article. It has driven me to the brink of looking elsewhere for work. The problem is that there is nothing I can do to change his behaviors if the broader organization is willing to look past them. I constantly try to model good behaviors around him in hopes that it might rub off. But to no avail. Even if I was to flat out call him out on these behaviors, he would likely be unable to acknowledge that he is guilty of them.

    You are spot on in your article that these behaviors will erode the fabric of an organization more quickly than anything else. Keep up the good work!

  15. Hi Todd – Thanks so much for sharing. I’m so sorry you’ve had to deal with these behaviors in your boss. In fact, it sounds like you might be dealing with a true narcissist, which means that there’s no getting through to him or changing him. Here’s a post I wrote (based on my own personal experience) of How To Tell If Your Boss Is a Narcissist (and How Not To Get Fired By One). The reality is that you need to extricate yourself from his sphere. I hope this material is motivating to you to do what it takes to remove yourself. All best wishes to you.

  16. The negativity expressed by readers may be indiciative of the deep truth of the post. I think it is true and timely. As I read it I saw myself in all but #6 when I was going through a hard time in my former career. Like you, once out of the toxic environment (it to me and I to it!) I completed a MA program in a totally different direction- although I haven’t yet figured out where I am going with it. This is my year out of work and out of school, and after 33 years working in a field that I was really good at, although I feel a bit off center, I also feel renewed. This is the week I make a schedule for myself and as Seth Godin asserts in Poke the Box, I will start something new. Thanks for your awesome writing, your truthful and insightful posts. I look forward to following you.

  17. Thanks, Rita! I appreciate your feedback. I think if we’re truthful with ourselves, each and every one of us on the planet has exhibited at least one of these toxic behaviors more than we care to admit. Wonderful to hear that you’re moving in a totally different direction. I hope it’s incredibly rewarding and fulfilling to you. Hey – my free teleclass July 30th may be of help to you! It’s on Make the Right Career Move NOW! Here’s more about it. All best wishes to you.

  18. Thanks, Brian! So glad the post resonated with you, and great to know of The Art of Empathy. I’ll check it out asap! Empathy is critical if we want to connect with, support, and love others, and have that connection and love returned to us. Thanks for writing.

  19. This is a great post. Did Marc and Angel at copy this piece? They added some extra stuff, but a lot of it is word-for-word the same as your piece. You published it in June, and their version came up in August. You may want to check it out.

  20. Thanks so much, Karl. Yes, I just learned for Marc and Angel’s copy of my piece – word-for-word. Mine was original thoughts – his a copy. I wrote to Marc yesterday – his response was really disappointing. It’s amazing what people allow themselves to think is acceptable. Thanks for pointing it out!

  21. agreed! I was recently accused of being toxic. This was helpful to read and I will do my best to look out for these negative behaviors within myself. Thanks!

  22. I recently come across that i have all of these and i need help with them , How can i help myself change . I am 44 yrs old hope i am not to old to change. LOL!! But really i really want to change this and start feeling better about myself . Anything will help , Thank you so much !!

  23. After being very angry at my ex-husband for four years because he was so toxic and it affected me, I read this article and realized I need to care way more about how I function (or don’t). Huge eye opener. Thank you.

  24. I am a toxic human… I can’t stand it, it’s gonna stay with me until i die. Negativity is all i see. I am no more!

  25. I am so glad that I found your blog. All the six points apply to me heavily, as I am very toxic when I am in a romantic relationship. With the help of your article, I hope to finally stop being so toxic and find a valuable relationship with someone. I want to thank you tremendously, you’ve got no idea how much you are helping me!

  26. I exhibit most of these toxic behavior. I over react to things, I always have the best intentions but I can be overbearing and too critical. I give too many negative comments and comments even when I am not asked to, I tend to engage into gossips and backstab people too.

    I am passionate with what I believe in and would like to make impact in the organization, but the last thing I want is to be toxic. I feel extremely sad whenever I mistreat others or when I have gone overboard but I simply don’t know how to stop. When I try to change my behavior, I tend to disengage from people, I feel so lonely and horrible.

  27. I feel the same thing. I feel so horrible and hated. I really hate myself. I wish I am a positive person and nice person.

  28. I see myself in almost all of these. Just last week I essentially “lost” all the friends I had due to my own toxic-ness. The odd thing is that I always knew I was toxic, partially blamed it on other things, and still didn’t change.

    But losing those friends entirely has been a sort of rock bottom for me that has allowed me to fully accept these things in myself, excuses barred. It took several days but I am finally beginning to move on and am trying to learn how to not be a toxic person.

    It’s a little bit scary but I know I need to do this.

  29. As an author publishing on the internet you shouldn’t be surprised when people disagree with you.

    I think your list is way too vague. I literally meet every single item on this list except number 4 just from symptoms of general anxiety disorder, but I keep it to myself.

    I guess according to you I’m a toxic person for suffering internally from a mental disorder.

  30. It sounds like you’re exhibiting both the victimizing and taking things personally. Hey, I have an anxiety disorder too, but rather than let it hold me back I’m going to work on myself so I don’t do these things. Disorder or not, these things aren’t healthy! Try looking at it in that light and it might be put into perspective.

  31. I recently started my first relationship after ending an abusive one. The new SO is a good guy for the most part. He seems to really care, and is very kind. However we have started having problems…. this article made me realize that I have started behaving like my ex. That is the very LAST person i want to be emulating. Thank you for helping me see that I have adopted some of the behaviors of my abuser. I I’ll be working to recognize them and change them every chance I get

  32. Wow! This is me. Came to a head at work again. How do I stop it?

  33. While informative the “Signs and Symptoms”, you listed also encompass several mental illnesses as well as being spot on for a character profile of an abuse survivor. To blanket the aforementioned under “toxic”, is just biased. You fail to mention where you found the information on “toxic” people, likely because there is no fact based research involved in your editorial. And “Toxic” is in fact a term used in social media, invented by those who don’t want to simply be honest and say they don’t get along with the entire world.

  34. Thanks for your comments, Aaron and Theodd1. I developed my own perceptions of “toxic” throughout my life experience, and after my own masters degree in therapy and years of training and work as a Marriage and Family Therapist, then as a career coach, writer, speaker and leadership trainer. Also, after working with over 10,000 professionals to help them build more productive, rewarding careers, and conducting my own qualitative and quantitative research that has tapped the views of over 30,000 people in the past 11 years, I’ve based my views on the work I do with people around the world. Thus, I didn’t “find” this definition online or on social media – I am sharing my own views and those of the thousands of people I work with.

  35. Hey there, hopefully you’re still reading these ahaha. I’m glad I stumbled upon this article. I feel like it was totally spot on, and I identified with almost all of the toxic behaviors listed, sadly. I wonder if my suspected diagnosis of BPD has something to do with it? Anyways, thank you for writing this!! I hope people will or have benefitted from this!!

  36. I am toxic.
    I literally mess up everything and everyone around me. I always start out with good intentions but they are poorly executed which eventually makes me push myself or others away. I’ve just fucked up my 7 year relationship and quite possibly my kids lives by being me
    The best thing I can do is get away as far as possible. No me? No hurt. It’s quite simple really.

  37. Hi Dessa – Thank you for your very candid and open sharing. I’d love to say this – if you feel you’re toxic, it means that you’ve had some traumatic experiences in childhood and adulthood that have skewed how you’re thinking about, and approaching, yourself, others, relationships and interacting with the world. We can change and grow and heal – that’s the beauty of being human. What first has to happen is finding the right kind of help. One suggestion – if you have experienced narcissism in your family, there’s undeniably some pain and trauma you’ve internalized. Take a look at my Facebook group Thriving After Narcissism and see if that’s a good place to start the healing for you. I’m thinking of you. You CAN learn to love yourself. (Watch my FB live video from yesterday too! about How NOT Being True To Yourself Crushes Your Life.) Here’s that link: Hope these help.

  38. I am a very toxic person due my mental illness. I have tried for years to find therapy, but I seem to be toxic to therapists too. I am a ball of energy, when I am well in myself people flock to me like flies, they adore me because they say they feel like I truly see them and make them feel like it’s ok to be themselves. But when I am not well, the opposite seems to be true, I show people a mirror to the darkest parts of their soul and hurt them deeply. It;s like I’m dr jekyll and mr hyde, and am completely unable to control it when the evil side takes over. I no longer am able to think straight. I become a black and white thinker. I am not “myself”. I have been struggling with this since my breakdown 5 years ago. I am once again on a waiting list of months for yet another type of therapy. I know the answer is to learn to love yourself, but how do you love someone who hurts those they love most? I have become completely isolated. Terrified to get near to anyone, terrified I will hurt people again if I let myself love them. I don’t know how to forgive myself for the suffering I’ve caused. Or for all the friendships and love I have lost. The only people left are those who need me, but have nothing to give back to me, who never ask how I am or show interest in me. And to whom I never show my true feelings because they can;t deal with them, they never could. I try, I do volunteer work, I give to others, I don’t ask or expect help or support, I practice daily gratitudes, but the pain inside and the loneliness is always there and I keep falling into these pits of not being able to get out of bed or face the day and that then morphs into hatred and anger towards myself. I used to be able to get myself in action by giving myself a stern talking to, but those talking tos became yelling and hitting and now all they result in is the neighbors calling the police. And I see how upsetting it is to them to see someone as distraught as I am. So now I have learned to be quiet, to whisper in my house. But the self-beatings still happen. I know that if someone sits with me, I become calm. But I don’t know who to call except the suicide helpline. Once they helped, but now the conversations just make me feel lonelier because it’s always the same old thing, the same conversation, the same tips. And it’s not about suicide, it’s about hating myself and beating myself up. For 5 years now I have kept at it. I go outside, I go for walks, eat a health meal, tidy the house, meditate. But these things are becoming harder and harder to do. I wish life would end. But I don;t want to cause any more pain and I know my death would do just that. So I go to my weekly volunteer work. I go to yoga every sunday but feel overwhelmed by fear during it. I take care of my elderly divorced father who I suspect has dementia. I Skype with my dementing mother in her nursing home every week. I take care of both their financial admin. I offer my autistic sister emotional and practical support via whatsapp. I call my dying lonely aunt every week. This week I’ve had the flu. And although i am in touch with many people due to my volunteer work not one person offered any form of help and all I got was “hope you feel better soon”. That was a week ago. I’m slowly recovering but have not heard from a single person in 6 days. I realize now how truly alone I am. I know it is my own doing, I am too afraid to let anyone close again because I am a toxic person and I will hurt them. I want to change. I have tried to change but I am losing hope. A close friend once called me evil incarnate. I know I am not. I know I am just deeply deeply hurt and traumatized. But perhaps that is what evil is, hurt that cannot be healed…

  39. I found this article very useful and did not understand how some of my relationships have failed due to toxic behavior I did not know I had . thank you for your advise

  40. What if, and i’m not criticizing you or anything because honestly I relate to many of these signs unfortunately, but, what if, in the beginning the person wasn’t toxic but became toxic because of how they were treated. Because they became insecure and unhappy. What if their toxicity were signs like “needs validation” (because they are insecure), “obsessing over negative thoughts” (because they are depressed/anxiety ridden) or “treats themselves/thinks they are the victim” (when they might be)? What then? (I’m not challenging you, I am just simply curious because I am all that I have written, but I try to be a good caring person and a good friend and do good things for this world however according to this I am still toxic… does that mean that in this case, toxicity is less about being a bad/toxic person and more about allowing bad energy into your life?) I have always thought toxic people were people that made other people feel bad, or would exhaust other people or hurt other people or whatnot but alot of these seem [mostly] harmless/harmful to themselves more than other people. Is it so wrong to feel wronged?

    Thank you 🙂 Please don’t take this as criticizing or challenging, I am just asking because I want your opinion and advice, and to know if maybe I AM a toxic person, how to change that.
    Please and once again, Thank you <3

    ps. I just got out of a really toxic friendship with someone so I can't help but blame a lot of my issues on her… does this make me toxic?

  41. What if it is your wife. You have been with her 18 years, which 13 of the years you were married. You also have a 13 and 11 year old with her. The last 12 years was great hardly fought at all. Most of the issues came prior to that 12 years and in the last 5 months. She admits she is toxic. You have trust issues because your dealing with infidelity from prior of that 12 years, and lies from the last 5 months about it. She admits she is toxic and she loves you and don’t want you to leave. But before she can do what it takes to help both of us heal from the trust issues, she says she has to concentrate on making herself better. Which she has been watching self help video’s on youtube and she has days when she is positive as long as I don’t question anything. Then it turns into her telling me my face gets an evil look, My tone makes her feel like I’m talking down to her, and I don’t listen when I’m mad. I always start calm though until she pushes the right buttons. I even started recording our conversations/me starting fights just so she could see how she was acting and I was tired or her taking me in circles, or just straight changing the subject. Now she recently started telling me that I’m just recording us so I can post it to social media to make her look bad in front of her clients.. I told her I’m not ashamed of the way I feel or speak my mind why is she afraid unless she feels she is being fake and doesn’t want her clients and family to see the real her. I also make the point that if that was what it was about I would have started talking to people from day one. I didn’t talk about it to anybody because I didn’t want to make her look bad. Then I would point out how she would down play our arguments with everybody else on her part, and try to paint me as a monster. She then says sorry again and it won’t happen anymore. Then when she gets angry she forgets everything we talked about and she agreed on. When I do keep it going she gets toxic with me, and I point it out she says will I’m working on self improvement like you want and it doesn’t happen over night. I then say. But you have had 2 to 3 months to start this and get the basics down, why cant you help me on healing us? Maybe if you take responsibility for your actions we can work through this and it will help you feel better about yourself. She then tells me how I’m just trying to make her negative when she is trying to make herself positive. I intently feel and I said it when I was angry and hurt. That ignoring this isn’t doing nothing but making our foundation crumble . All your doing is trying to forget about it and be positive about yourself with running from what you did. She then stonewalls me and claims I just don’t want her to be positive. I want her to be negative like me. I showed her some articals on toxic, manipulative, narcissist people and she said……….This whole time I thought it was you doing this to me. She said she felt like I was trying to brain wash her to be like me and she felt I was the manipulative one. I asked her how me wanting her to be honest with me was so wrong and why she felt like I was manipulating her when we would both benefit from the honesty and not just me? She said sorry and she said that she will work on that. But then she claims she can’t work on it all and its not going to happen over night. I looked back and the only issue I had was the lies, and betrayal. I told her she didn’t have to work on that much just the betrayal and being more honest. Which will happen over time if you just let me grieve longer then a couple days. Every time I say something though she throws in my face how she can’t do nothing right, and its all her fault. Its crazy……..When she is happy she is the coolest person to be around, We have a lot in common. Yet if you challenge her or she gets mad she turns into this hateful person that forgets everything she did and misunderstands what you say. She claims she can’t help it and she is working on it. That she didn’t realize she was this way for so long and its hard to deal with………..So i just tell her I understand. You say you feel guilt and shame so the best way to fix it is by treating the one that has been there for you like crap.

    I don’t get it………..Maybe I am the toxic one. I am starting to feel like that. I used to be like that a long time ago. I thought I gained the awareness to see it and I thought I changed it. I’ve always tried to show people respect by being honest and straight forward with them. I know we all judge people but I did actually try not to judge anybody. I would always put myself in others shoes, and try to understand how they feel, and why they did what they did. But maybe I was wrong. Maybe I still am toxic and I don’t realize it. Or maybe she is lying to me which would break my heart. Even through all this I just think of the great 12 years we had together and I try to get back to that. She was my best friend and I built my world around her. Without her I feel some what lost, and mad because I spent 18 years of my life on somebody that doesn’t love me as much as I thought. She did start to go to counseling. She went for a couple days and now we are supposed to go for relationship counseling. She did tell her councilor everything she did. She didn’t want to at first. She wanted me to tell the councilor so she wouldn’t leave stuff out or down play it. I told her don’t worry about it. Just tell her how you feel and when I go I’ll do the same. I want her counselor to hear both sides of the story not just mine……. God I hope this works. Don’t want to split up our marriage and put our kids and us through this until there is no other options.

  42. Cindy, the whole highlighting thing and putting them on their desk is exactly what a toxic person would do. Why don’t you just admit you are toxic and figure out a way to fix it to help yourself instead? You literally pointed out number 1 (taking things personal) then described how you took it personal when someone else pointed out your toxicity..

  43. Have you been able to overcome being toxic? I’ve recently been accused of being toxic and need to change.

  44. I read this article and it is great…it helped me to realize it is me for sure and I want to change it sooo bad cause I dont want to lose my husband. We are hanging on by a thread cause of the love we have for one another. At this point though I dont know what to do.

  45. When you feel yourself getting to that point where you feel manipulative, needy,insecure or anything that categorized as toxic you have to think twice before you act. That’s the key, literally thinking before you act: think about the outcome, how this affects you and/or your loved one. It’s super hard to think in the moment that you are mad, but it saves you so much. I’m working on it myself so i know how hard it can be.

  46. Hi my name is carneesha and I’ve just ruined my 3yr relationship with my boyfriend. We’re still living together at this point but I’m becoming more toxic by the day. I really don’t want him to hate me I just don’t know how to stop. I need help

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